I Was Racist (And Did Not Know)

So I had a really weird moment a few years ago when I realized that the jokes my family inherited and loved are racist.

The humor was entirely dependent on mockery of immigrant speech-patterns, or slavery-era speech-patterns, or people from foreign countries just being nasty or greedy or dumb.

I laughed when I was a kid. “Foreign devil” or “yes, massah” didn’t really mean anything to me then. I just thought they sounded funny.

And if anyone took issue with those jokes I’d known all my life, why, THOSE people were simply being overly-sensitive, or failed to understand “it was just a joke.”

These things were easy to believe because they didn’t affect me – and that, right there, is the entire problem.

I do not believe most of my family ever intended bias toward people of color or other nations. Some certainly did. I prided myself that I was not like that.

Unfortunately, that does not make us harmless. In fact, our particular “harmless” attitude is, in my opinion, one of the largest sources of racism in America.


Because at its core, this well-meaning, innocent attitude really means not listening to minority voices.

I Don’t Know How To Explain To You That You Should Care About Other People

(Headline from here, which is a much better read than my article.)

Subtle and dangerous racism looks like a well-meaning, sweet-smiling refusal to believe minority voices. Click To Tweet

I believed what white people told me about how to interpret minority experiences. Obviously, the people who were upset simply misinterpreted systematic issues like police brutality or legal bias.

I mean, come on – that stuff never happened to me, so why would it happen to them?

We Are Not Equal

Want to know what changed my mind? The murder of Tamir Rice.

This is the most personal part of this confession, because even though it was the beginning of me really beginning to listen, it should not have taken THIS MUCH.

So here are the facts.

  1. Supposedly, someone calls and reports someone in a park playing with a “probably fake” gun.
  2. Police show up. They claim this: “Shots fired, male down, um, black male, maybe 20.”
  3. They also claimed that upon arriving at the park, they asked this 20-year-old man to put his hands up three times.

This was the narrative told by police, and then told by the media.

I believed it.

I’d ignored Michael Brown’s mess earlier that year; this seemed like more of the same – someone who clearly deserved to be shot (more on THAT brainwashing in a moment), who had obviously made the police feel it was necessary.

I trusted police to do the rational thing. They wouldn’t lie, right?

Then I saw this.

That is not a 20 year old man.

So maybe his body was bigger than his face implied. Right? Must be! So I looked a little deeper to reassure myself that I was right and did not need to feel horrible ways about this incident.

Here is a still shot from the security video that recorded the entire incident.

That is not a 20-year-old-man.

At this point, I began to feel sick – and also very alone.

There wasn’t one member of my family I could talk to about this. I was entering strange and deeply bad territory.

It Can’t Be…

It bothered me.

It bothered me.

I didn’t want it to be true. After all, if it were true – true that this child was shot without warning, and it was being covered up in an egregious and ridiculous way – then my simple, clear trust in the policing system would be threatened.

(See, this was still about me. How I felt.)

Nevertheless, I couldn’t let it go. I finally started digging. Really digging.

The kid was 12. Yeah – he looked 12. Surely he did something to cause his death. Surely he threatened them, shouted, SOMETHING.

I dug deeper.

And do you know what I found, friends?

Do you know what I found?

Below is the video of Tamir Rice’s murder.

I challenge you to watch this. It won’t be easy – but if you are denying anything I’ve said so far, this may be what you need to see.

Yes. That. Was. Murder.

Here are the ACTUAL FACTS:

  1. This is a child. Obviously, visibly, clearly a child (lie number one).
  2. Nobody told him to put his hands up three times (lie number two).
  3. Cops showed up and shot him without even one damned warning, and he very clearly did not threaten them first (lie number three).

Scales Hurt When Falling From Your Eyes

Friend, I wept.

I wept hard.

This couldn’t happen in my country. Could it? This couldn’t be real. This had to be some kind of horrible weird incident, a fluke.

But nobody questioned it, and that bothered me more than anything else.

Oh, minorities questioned it. So-called “bleeding heart liberals” (don’t even get me started on that phrase) did. But police did not; people in power did not; white people simply did not.

I had to be wrong.

I tried to disprove it. Instead… everything I found just made it worse.

The police narrative simply didn’t fit what anybody with two eyes and a brain could see for themselves.

Those in power blamed Tamir for his death. They actually claimed, “He’s menacing. He’s 5-feet-7, 191 pounds. He wasn’t that little kid you’re seeing in pictures. He’s a 12-year-old in an adult body.”

Ah, but that makes it worse: even if Tamir HAD been an adult man, the cops still just rolled up and murdered him without warning or cause.

Remember the brainwashing I mentioned? Since when is it okay for a human being – a United States citizen – to be shot without due process?

I had bought into the media/police narrative so deeply that I forgot one of the most basic tenets of justice in my country: that we are innocent until proven guilty, and unequivocally have the right to a fair trial.

I had bought into the media/police narrative so deeply that I forgot one of the most basic tenets of justice in my country: that we are innocent until proven guilty, and unequivocally have the right to a fair trial. Click To Tweet

When I saw that the FBI agent Kimberly Crawford said that Rice‘s death was justified and the police “response was a reasonable one”, I felt sick.

I’m not inclined to believe conspiracy theories, but this situation had grown far beyond conspiracies. This was a systemic problem – and not even carefully hidden.

The officers were not indicted, and the news continued to claim that the child deserved to be murdered. That he was, in fact, a large, menacing man who’d threatened police.

I had been lied to. Badly.

I freaked the fuck out.

Detoxing Is Ugly

Let’s get one thing out of the way first: nobody deserves to be shot outright. It doesn’t even matter if they ARE guilty.

No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the Militia, when in actual service in time of War or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offence to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.

That’s the 5th amendment. In case you missed it, the key part is “nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.”

Being shot without due process is a violation of the constitution of the United States.

This amendment also leads right into the 6th:

In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the State and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the Assistance of Counsel for his defence

That, my friend, means “innocent until proven guilty.” (Need more explanation? Read here.)

The last excuse – that the murdered black people were criminals currently or at any point in the past and so deserved to be gunned down like rabid dogs – finally woke me up.

The last excuse – that the murdered black people were criminals currently or at any point in the past and so deserved to be gunned down like rabid dogs – finally woke me up. Click To Tweet

I finally did something I should have done long, long before: I began to pay attention.


I am not trying to say that only black people have been oppressed in this country. I am, however, addressing the fact that black people HAVE always been oppressed in America.

That link may make you angry. Good.

It’s historical and systematic. Case in point: did you know that 4,467 people between 1883 and 1941 were murdered by lynch mob via hanging, burning, dismembering, garroting and blowtorching, and 3,300 of those victims were people of color?

That’s nearly 74% deaths by lynch-mob within 13% of the population.

Here are some stats just from 2015, not even all that recent, to make you angrier:

  • Unarmed black people were killed at 5x the rate of unarmed whites in 2015
  • Only 13 of the 104 cases in 2015 where an unarmed black person was killed by police resulted in officer(s) being charged with a crime. 4 of these cases have ended in a mistrial or charges against the officer(s) being dropped and 4 cases are still awaiting trial or have a trial underway. Only 4 cases have resulted in convictions of officers involved, with a fifth case (Walter Scott) resulting in the officer pleading guilty.
  • Of the 4 cases where the officer(s) involved have been convicted and sentenced, none were sentenced to serve more than 4 years in prison. Only 1 of 2 officers convicted received jail time. He was sentenced to 1 year in jail and allowed to serve this time exclusively on weekends.
  • 36% of unarmed people killed by police were black in 2015 despite black people being only 13% of the U.S. population

In fact, here’s a timeline of black men killed by police JUST in 2015 alone.

This doesn’t address 2014. 2020. 2012. 2016. I’m just giving you a snapshot of one year to give you some idea how bad this is.

But hey, maybe you need a bigger picture. Have a gander. Read it all. Research if, if you like. See reality for what it is.

Are there people who do wrong things and get shot? Sure! But not anywhere near the numbers being killed.

There is a problem. And if you don’t feel it, and don’t see it, then you are privileged.


I know you want to argue over that word. Here’s the thing: privileged does not mean you’re rich or have no struggles.

Most white people are privileged. We are not profiled. It’s time we listened to the people who are.

It took the murder of a 12-year-old child to get my attention, and I’m ashamed of that – but I am sure as hell not looking away ever again.


In 2015, I realized that I was racist. I didn’t mean to be; I’m ashamed that it took such a blatant act of murder to get through my hard heart.

Look: Jesus went out of His way to enter Samaria – a place his Jewish brethren despised due to ethnic hatred. He went there, and he spoke to a woman (gasp!) even though this was cultural taboo in both his culture and national religion.

I have no right to do any less.

A Few Resources


A three-times bestselling author, Ruthanne Reid has led a convention panel on world-building, taught courses on plot and character development, and been the keynote speaker for the Write Practice Retreat. Author of two series with five books and fifty-plus short stories, Ruthanne has lived in her head since childhood, when she wrote her first story about a pony princess and a genocidal snake-kingdom and used up her mom’s red typewriter ribbon in the process. When she isn’t reading, writing, or reading about writing, Ruthanne enjoys old cartoons with her husband and two cats, and dreams of living on an island beach far, far away. P.S. Red is still her favorite color.